Marines and Bataan Amphibious Group End Extended Deployment Amid Gaza War, Middle East Violence

U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Carlos A. Ruiz
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Carlos A. Ruiz, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, addresses Marines and Sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) (MEU(SOC)), during an all-hands formation aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5), Souda Bay, Greece, March 1, 2024. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Nayelly Nieves-Nieves)

A specialized Marine unit and its amphibious ready group are wrapping up a longer-than-expected deployment, leaving the Mediterranean on Wednesday after deploying to the area in response to tensions caused by the Israel-Hamas war, a Navy press release announced Wednesday.

The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, a special operations-capable element, and the Navy's Bataan Amphibious Ready Group originally deployed in July -- nearly eight months ago -- to deter Iranian aggression against commercial shipping vessels near the Persian Gulf. After Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel, it steamed to the Mediterranean as a deterrent effort.

As of last month, the Bataan ARG's deployment -- which also includes the dock landing ship USS Carter Hall and the amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde -- had been extended twice amid questions about the readiness of the Navy's amphibious fleet.

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When asked the Navy about the timing of another ARG/MEU team deploying from the East Coast, the sea service declined to say and instead replied that "all force posture decisions are made by the Department of Defense."

Meanwhile, the Marine Corps didn't offer an answer in time for publication about when another ARG/MEU would again find itself in Europe or the Middle East.

Sailors and Marines will return to Norfolk, Virginia, and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, respectively, "in the coming weeks" after transiting the Atlantic Ocean, the statement said.

"Throughout our time in the U.S. 5th and U.S. 6th Fleet regions, the sailors and Marines of the Bataan ARG and 26th MEU(SOC) showcased the unique capabilities that we bring as a response force to our allies and partners," Amphibious Squadron 8 Commodore Capt. Martin Robertson said in the press release.

The 26th MEU is the only special operations-capable Marine air-ground task force in the Corps. It was designated as special operations-capable before it deployed with the Bataan ARG last year.

"Our presence in the Eastern Mediterranean was exactly what our nation needed: an integrated Navy and Marine Corps force ready to respond when called upon," Robertson said.

The 26th MEU cut its deterrence mission, as well as a planned exercise, short in October after Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel that plunged the region into chaos. The resulting turmoil has included more than 170 attacks on U.S. bases and personnel in Iraq and Syria.

The conflict raised the significance of the Marines' presence in the area, and the Bataan was moved closer to Israel in the days after Hamas' attack.

The Corps' top enlisted Marine, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Carlos Ruiz, visited the MEU last week and told in an emailed statement that "the Marines and sailors of the MEU/ARG have shown the world how critical it is to have a forward-postured Navy and Marine Corps team available to our combatant commanders."

"The leadership out here has made sure this team knows how important this deployment was -- but I still wanted to come here in person to spend time with the Marines, to speak with them, to thank them, and to make sure they know the commandant and I are proud of each and every one of them," Ruiz added.

However, the extended deployment also laid bare problems the Navy has in making ready the amphibious ships that carry the MEUs on deployment.

Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, who heads the Marine Corps' modernization efforts, told that the Bataan was "looking at yet another extension" in January because of the unprepared state of the Navy's amphibious ship fleet.

One defense official who is familiar with amphibious readiness requirements, when asked about the timing of the Bataan's return, pointedly told that "we wouldn't be having this conversation if the USS Boxer's maintenance schedule hadn't been so badly mismanaged."

The USS Boxer, an amphibious warship that will be the heart of the next Marine deployment, has been struggling with maintenance issues for months. The ship spent more than a year at the pier, despite having just completed a two-year overhaul. Then, when it finally did get underway, it belched black smoke outside San Diego harbor.

Navy officials told that the ship, which was scheduled to deploy in November, still needed "additional advanced training" before it would be fully ready to deploy in January.

The ship remained in port as of this week.

Related: Marines, Navy's Bataan Group Officially Get Extended Deployment in Mediterranean Amid Middle East Turmoil

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